5 Things I loved in 2014
ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger Simply put, this is a novel that saw Kent take his game to the next level. Kent’s Cork O’Connor series is, in my opinion, one of the best ongoing series today. The characters age, love, suffer loss and grow. OG is the author’s second stand-alone (He, and his publisher, prefer not tot talk about the first) and finds Kent mining his childhood memories and craft the southern Minnesota setting. And in doing so, gives the readers the sights, sounds and even smells of small town middle America in the 50s. He does an amazing job and delivers a book that feels more like a recollection than a novel…a tale that a Grandfather might tell on sunny Saturday afternoon while you sat together on the porch. My pick of the Novel of the Year for 2014.
STEVE CONTE NYC by Steve Conte Not a book, but a stellar album of Rock N Roll. Steve has spent the last couple of decades honing his chops with the likes of The New York Dolls, Michael Monroe, Chuck Berry and Billy Squire. This solo album has a ’70s Stones feel, but Conte avoids sounding like anyone other than himself as he tells tales of the Big Apple over the course of ten songs. He introduces us to the Large-living wanna rock stars (Dark In The Spotlight), the neighborhood punk whose luck is running out (Lady Luck) and the barflies that area staple of every corner bar. (Broken Spoke Saloon). Steve’s slightly raspy voice works well with the gritty nature of the majority of the tracks. A particular favorite of mine is the aforementioned Broken Spoke Saloon, in which we meet two losers whose bond is broken as one opts to straighten out and move forward, leaving the other to pine for those lovely, drunken nights and let her know that if she ever wanders back, he get the drinks if she’ll get the smokes. Conte is not creating anything new here, but he is delivering a fantastic batch of songs that gives us a look at the grungier side of the Big Apple through the eyes of life long New Yorker.
ONE KICK by Chelsea Cain Chelsea Cain’s Portland (her whole world, for that matter) is a dark, dangerous place where nobody is completely safe, yet both the population at large and the media seem to embrace the titillation factor of the crimes that surround them. OK is a break from the tales of Archie and Gretchen, but takes place in the same world. We are introduced to Kit Lannigan was abducted at age 6. Several years later, long after everyone assumed her dead, she is rescued by the FBI as than raid the home of known pedophiles. Kit’s doubious celebrity status grows even larger as she struggles to return to the real world and overcome her PTSD and her myriad of psychological problems. Kit, 21, now goes by the name Kick and has trained herself to never again be a victim. She is a crack shot, knows martial arts, can pick a lock, throw a knife and a fire a bow. Yet these things have not been enough for her to truly return to the life of a normal citizen. She is contantly battling her anger and phobias, as well as an obsession with child abductions. Even though she knows she likely can’t save them, she pursues every Amber alert that is sounded. When Bishol, a mysterious arms dealer, approaches her with an offer to go look into a pair of recent abductions, Kick finds herself confronting demons that she usually is able to keep at arms length. Despite the darkness of the subject matte, Cain manages to throw in more than a little delightfully twisted, and sometimes very sweet, humor. Fans of her series should find Kick and co more than worthy of sharing shelf space with Archie and Gretchen.
WOLVERINE BROTHERS FREIGHT AND STORAGE by Steve Ulfelder Conway Sax returns for a fourth time in the latest of Steve’s damn fine series. Conway is a mechanic than occasionally moonlights as a PI for the members of his AA group. Lest the mention of AA makes anyone think this might be your Grandmother’s PI novel, Conway’s world is nasty and violent. Conway himself has a short temper and his desire to help people often prevents him from seeing the toll his actions have on those closest to him. This novel takes him out of his usual Massachusetts haunts to sunny L.A. as he looks to recover the actor sun of a dear friend. Conway is a step away from most PIs in that he makes mistakes, ones that often have very real consequences. Much of what had been an ideal life has been lost due to his drive to help those in need. WBF&S is an exceptional hardboiled novel and fans of the genre should grab hold of Steve’s books, lock the doors, unplug the phone and settle in for some killer tales. Steve holds his own in the talented PI genre and gives us a true gem of a flawed hero in Sax.
THE FLASH (CW Network) When I sat down to watch the pilot, I was not expecting much from THE FLASH. I am a fan of CW’s ARROW and, having grown up with the heroes of the DC universe, figured I would give it a show. So glad I did, THE FLASH is everything I could want from a comic book series and more. It has heart, humor and exceptional plotting. CW is mining the rich world of DC comics for characters, but also creating their own. Grant Gustin stars as Barry Allen, a crime scene investigator that, after a lab accident, gains superhuman speed. He uses that gift to help others. As a child, Barry witnessed the murder of his mother. But the police did not take seriously Barry’s tale of a man of lightning invading their home and killing his mother and opt to arrest his father instead. Now Barry’s own abilities convince him that what he saw was not just possible, but real. Along with the help of others, he strives to both protect the citizens of Central City and track down the real murderer. Grant and co do a nice job acting, but the real strength is the plotting. Little happens that is not referenced later and the larger plot is dished out slowly, allowing fans to savor each taste before begging for more.
Honorable mention goes to The Replacements appearing on THE TONIGHT SHOW!!!!!